Barely able to see beneath the dark oak dresser, Simon crouched on hands and knees and tried vainly to reach his dropped pen with arms that were way too short for the job.
“Damn it.” That was his second to last pen, and it would be a couple of days before he could order in any more. He thought of getting the broom to sweep it out, but just then he heard the little bell at the top of the door give off its warning chime, informing him that someone had entered the shop.
Simon quickly pushed himself to his feet, then wiped off his dusty hands. He checked himself to make sure he still looked presentable and that his tan trousers and white shirt were dirt free before heading toward the front of the shop.
Never sure whom to expect and what their reasons were for being here, Simon tried not to make any assumptions until he’d spoken to his potential customer. However, as he spotted the man standing at the counter, Simon didn’t care why the guy was here. Tall and broad shouldered, with sandy hair and bright green eyes, the man caused Simon’s mouth to go dry as he raked the stranger from head to toe with eyes gone wide. It was rude; he knew that, but...wow.
He shook his head and reminded himself he was supposed to be here to serve, not ogle, then smiled politely, the way he was supposed to welcome all his potential clientele. “May I help you?”
The man stared at him in confusion, those green eyes clouding over with uncertainty.
Simon stood still as he measured the man’s bewilderment. “Don’t worry. I know what you’re looking for.”
“I wasn’t actually looking for anything. I just happened on this shop by accident. I think.”
“No one ever comes to this shop by accident.” On the surface the shop, which was situated in the heart of Sydney, was like any other; it operated as a business, so was open to anyone who wanted to browse or purchase antiques. Occasionally, however, Simon had clients who were there for something different.
“So why am I here?”
Simon straightened his shoulders a little and brushed away a loose strand of hair. He badly needed it cut and was conscious of not looking his best--not that it mattered. For one, he didn’t stand a chance with a man like this, and even if he did, the man wasn’t Simon’s to have; this man was already promised to someone else.
Simon beckoned the man to follow. “Come with me and I’ll show you.”
It was always the same with these types of customers. Though initially confused and wary when they ventured through the front door, their trepidation was quickly overcome by a compulsive curiosity, which allowed Simon to do his job more easily.
Simon glanced over his shoulder. “Ever been in love?” Simon asked, watching the man as he trailed close behind.
“In love? No. Why?”
Simon stopped and gestured for the man to come closer. “I’ve a feeling that’s going to change.” He pointed to a dark recess in the far corner of the room, which housed an old, dusty mirror.
In such a shop the plain, oval, teak-framed mirror looked out of place. Old, yes, but not the kind of antique old that would have been at home among the large and beautiful pieces displayed for the benefit of the store’s normal, discerning clientele. Despite its shabby appearance, compared to the antiques that were sold on their worth, the value of the mirror was beyond measure. It was, quite literally, priceless.
“Take a look,” Simon encouraged, and watched as the man edged toward the mirror to stand in front of it.
For several long seconds the man stood still and silent; then he seemed to gather himself. “Who...”
“Your true love,” Simon told him quietly, unsure how the man was going to react to such news. Not everyone took it well. But Simon realized he needn’t have worried.
“He’s beautiful.” The man stared at the mirror for a little longer, then turned to face Simon. His green eyes were bright once more. “That’s amazing.”
Simon nodded, though he didn’t have any firsthand experience at how amazing it was.
“Do you know where I’ll find him?”
“No, unfortunately not.”
The man glanced at the mirror again. “How?”
“I can’t answer that either. Even though I’m the mirror’s keeper and it’s my job to show you, I don’t have any answers.” Simon had opinions, but of course they didn’t count. It was best not to complicate matters. Some men who saw what the mirror could do tended to complicate matters all on their own.
“That’s okay.” The man’s deep, melodious tones were soft but confident. “I’ll find him.”
Simon took a step toward the mirror. To him, the dark surface reflected nothing, and he began to wonder if it ever would. “What’s it like?” he asked, suddenly desperate to find out what the other men felt when given the chance to have someone to love.
“Imagine knowing with absolute certainty your life is going to be full and rich and with purpose. Imagine knowing everything you do and say will be cherished and respected. Imagine then you’re going to be able to spend your life with someone you love unconditionally. Now multiply that feeling by ten. That’s what it feels like.”
From the little Simon had gleaned from some of the men who had viewed the mirror, he knew what was supposed to happen, but he’d never heard anyone put it quite so eloquently. “That’s pretty awesome,” he said, hoping he’d managed to hide the jealousy from his voice.
The man turned back to him and smiled. “Yes. It is.”
* * * *
Brenn wondered if it was possible for a heart to beat so hard and fast and not burst out of a chest. That was exactly what his heart was doing now as he gazed across the crowded bar. He tried not to stare, but found it impossible when the man he’d been looking for, the man who had haunted his dreams and every waking minute for the past few days, was sitting not more than ten feet away from him.
Brenn had known he’d find him. He’d even known that when he did, the future love of his life would know who he was in some elemental way. However, now that he was faced with him, Brenn’s confidence fled, and nerves he very rarely had to deal with were fluttering in its place. So he sat, looking at him, while deliberating what to do next.
But this man was his
, Brenn reminded himself, and he shouldn’t be afraid of someone who belonged to him, was a part of him. Granted, if it hadn’t been for the mirror, Brenn knew he probably wouldn’t be feeling this way--not so thoroughly, so completely--but still, there was something about the man that would have drawn Brenn to him anyway.
He seemed to be in his early twenties, but as the younger man was sitting, it wasn’t easy to judge his height. Brenn guessed about five-ten. Brenn was, however, able to tell the other man was slender, athletic, which was a sharp contrast to Brenn’s own hulking size. But how the other man looked wasn’t really an issue. Brenn was already in love with him, had been from the instant he saw him in the mirror. Something magical had happened in that moment, something that was impossible to deny or undo, but Brenn couldn’t refute the man was beautiful. Though his skin was a little pale, his blue eyes were bright, and his impish smile was even brighter.
As Brenn watched, the man laughed at something one of his two companions had said, then glanced toward him. Brenn felt his heart stop, and he gasped. Unable to prevent himself, Brenn smiled and nodded. The young man’s eyes widened slightly, and then he nodded back. Brenn’s heart restarted itself. With it, Brenn’s confidence was restored. He got off the stool and slowly walked toward the men grouped around a table.
“Hi.” Brenn stopped about a foot away, though he would have felt more comfortable pulling out a chair and sitting down.
All three men looked up at him. His man smiled, and Brenn wondered what it was about a smile that could leave him feeling weak and so sure of himself at the same time.
“Hi,” the soon-to-be love of his life replied.
“Can I join you?”
“No.” The sharp retort came from one of the other men at the table. Brenn glanced at him, but before Brenn could ask why, a chair was pulled out beside him.
“Of course you can.”
The dark-haired man who had initially refused scowled. Brenn ignored him and deliberately brought his chair closer to the man whose dazzling smile was causing his poor heart to stutter all over again.
“Joey Singleton.” Joey put out his hand and Brenn took it. A tingle started from where their hands touched and traveled through Brenn’s body with lightning speed, igniting heat in his balls and cock. Instantly, he knew this was right, that what the mirror had told him, shown him, was exactly how it should be. Joey was his, now and forever. He smiled.
“Brendon Collins, but my family and friends call me Brenn.”
Joey’s hand remained glued to his until someone, Brenn suspected the dark-haired man, cleared his throat. Joey let go but not without a warm, knowing smile. He leaned in close, enough so the other men could still hear. “Don’t mind Paul. He thinks he’s my keeper.”
“Damn straight I am!” Paul scowled again as Joey laughed.
Brenn’s groin tightened, and he hoped no one was going to ask him to stand up anytime soon because he guessed his erection might raise a few eyebrows. But then, if Joey laughed like that again, an erection wouldn’t be a problem; he’d come in his pants.
“I noticed you from across the room.” Oh, that was cool. Brenn almost groaned as he realized what he’d said.
Joey’s open smile told him Joey didn’t mind. “I noticed you too. I mean, it’s pretty hard not to, being as you’re so big.” His smile changed, and Brenn could have sworn he saw something lewd in the tilt of Joey’s lips and in the unexpected gleam in his eyes.
Suddenly feeling awkward, Brenn glanced at the other two men at the table. Paul was still scowling, and Brenn wondered what he’d done to deserve it. Did Paul have a claim on Joey? Unbidden possessiveness had Brenn scowling back until he noticed the man sitting next to Paul had put a hand on Paul’s arm. The touch was intimate and instantly recognizable as one between lovers.
“Leave him be, Paul.”
The man turned to Brenn and held out his hand. “I’m Dave, Paul’s partner.” Dave’s tone was calm, his smile warm.
Brenn shook Dave’s hand and then offered his hand to Paul. Paul took it with a little show of reluctance. Brenn wondered what his problem was. Paul was obviously with Dave, so what was it with Paul and Joey?
“Would you like a drink, Brenn?” Joey’s light voice broke into Brenn’s thoughts. Brenn turned back to him. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Well, I would. Paul, can you get me a beer?” Joey’s request was both a question and a demand, and it surprised Brenn to hear the authority ringing in his tone. It also intrigued him.
“Paul.” The warning note in Dave’s voice stopped Paul from saying any more--so did the grip Dave had on his arm. Paul grumbled but got up. Joey looked at Dave.
Dave grinned. “I’ll go with him.”
Joey watched as both men left the table; then he sighed in relief. “Now that they’ve gone, we can talk. So, how big are you?”
“Big?” Brenn pulled a face. “Six-three, why?”
“No, I mean how big
are you?” Joey held his hands apart and indicated a length. The lewd look was back and so was the sparkle in Joey’s perfect blue eyes.
“Oh.” Now that wasn’t a question Brenn had expected to be asked, not so soon anyway. “Um, nine inches.”
“Nine! Are you kidding me? That’s huge!” Joey’s eyes widened, and some color rushed to his cheeks. “How do you cope with something so big?”
Brenn quickly looked around. There was no one within hearing distance. “I’ve never had any complaints.”
“I’m sure you haven’t. Shit, I don’t know if I could take nine inches.”
Not certain where this was going, Brenn smiled. “Well I wasn’t asking you to, but I’m sure you could if you tried.”
Joey’s smirk had Brenn’s dick jumping to attention again. Damn, and he’d only just got it down.
“Pity, ’cause I’d love to try.”
“Are you flirting with me?” Brenn couldn’t help grinning. He hadn’t been sure what Joey would be like, but this cocky attitude was something he found fascinating.
“Flirting? I thought I was coming on to you thick and strong.” Joey leaned even closer and winked. “So where to? Your place or mine?”
“You want to come home with me?” Fuck!
Had Joey picked up how Brenn felt about him, or was this how he acted with everyone he met?
“Yeah, I know. Stupid idea, but it was worth a shot.”
Stupid? No, Brenn didn’t think it was stupid. “I’d love to take you home, but don’t you think it’s a bit sudden?” he asked, trying to work out where Joey was coming from. He wanted Joey, but he wasn’t sure if Joey was joking or not. There was something off about this conversation, as if Joey was making fun, but of himself.
“Yeah, I guess so. And I don’t think Paul would let me. He really takes looking after me far too seriously.”
“Looking after you?” That was a strange turn of phrase.
Joey nodded, his smile slipping slightly. “You didn’t notice the wheelchair?” He tapped the arm of the chair he sat in.
Brenn hadn’t noticed it; he’d been too busy gazing at Joey’s face. He peeked down and eyed the wheelchair. Standard hospital issue. “What did you do, break your leg?”
Joey shook his head slowly. “No.”
Brenn glanced back up to Joey’s eyes. They were clouded in sorrow now. “What is it?” he asked, sudden dread filling his heart.
Joey stared at him for a moment as if unsure Brenn was for real, but then he smiled again, though it was twisted with apology and regret.
JOEY WATCHED BRENN’S face pale. Surely the man must have realized. Joey damn well knew he looked sick. He was gaunt, his skin sallow, and there were huge black circles under his eyes. How could Brenn not have noticed? “Are you all right? You look like you’ve just been told the love of your life is dying.”
“I have,” Brenn said, going even paler if that was possible.
Joey leaned forward a little. “Brenn, I’m serious. You’re looking even worse than I am.”
“No, I’m fine. I just didn’t realize. I’m sorry.” Brenn’s eyes misted over. “How long...”
Joey could see Brenn was struggling, and Joey wasn’t sure if he should be honest with him or not. “What’s the deal, Brenn? Why so shocked?” He held up his left arm. It was bruised and bone thin, not the sign of a healthy man.
Brenn winced, then shook his head. “You don’t look ill to me. You look fine. A little pallid, but fine.”
“I wish. Doctors say I’ve got a couple of weeks. Three if I’m lucky.”
Brenn’s gaze bored into his. His eyes were a dark, mossy green. Beautiful, actually. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. He sounded so sincere, so genuinely remorseful that Joey forgot the bravado he usually put on.
“So am I.”
He tore his gaze away from Brenn, suddenly feeling stupid for trying to flirt with him. What the hell had Joey been thinking? He had no right to do that to someone. He looked around for Paul and Dave. As soon as he spotted them, they came over.
“I’m tired. Can you take me back, please?” He glanced at Brenn and held out his hand. “It was nice meeting you,” he said, trying for a smile, but he didn’t feel like smiling, not anymore. He was
tired, but he was also feeling off-kilter, as if this meeting with Brenn was something that should never have happened. Brenn looked devastated.
Brenn took his hand, but then slid his fingers slowly up Joey’s arm. His touch was warm, tender. “Where are you going?”
“To the hospital before my curfew ends. We have to bribe the nurses to let me out. It’s costing me a fortune in chocolate and perfume.” He did smile then because smiling was what he did best. It was easier to cope that way.
“Can I come and see you tomorrow?” Brenn’s question surprised him. It surprised Paul too.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Paul said before Joey could come up with something suitable.
Maybe it was Paul’s censuring tone or the look of desperation in Brenn’s eyes, but Joey spoke up. “I’d love for you to come and visit me tomorrow,” he said, ignoring Paul’s sound of protest and his own inner voice of wisdom.
“Good. I’ll be there in the morning.” Brenn let go of Joey’s arm and stroked warm, strong fingers along his cheek. Brenn smiled, though he looked somewhat bemused.
Paul undid the brakes on the wheelchair and pulled Joey away from Brenn’s touch. Joey felt the loss instantly and wondered why. He tried to look back as Paul pushed him across the floor, but Dave had stayed behind and was blocking his view.
When Dave caught up, Joey realized something. “Hey, you guys, I didn’t tell him what hospital I was in.”
“I don’t think he needs to know,” Paul said, pushing him a little faster.
Before Joey could protest, Dave touched his shoulder. “I told him.”
“Dave!” Paul sounded angry.
“What? He asked me because you were rudely trying to get Joey away from him, and anyway, what harm can it do?”